Celeb dad Gurmit Singh: I’m a family man first, celebrity second

Family bonding aside, find out what this famous father been up to since he stepped away from the limelight.

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It’s been almost three years since Singapore’s famous funnyman father Gurmit Singh, 53, put his hectic full-time entertainer days behind him. He had a very simple reason for taking an extended break from his hugely successful 20-year career ― Gurmit wanted to make more time for his family, the most important people in his life.

Much as he loves and misses his job, family matters much, much more to Gurmit, who has been married to his wife, Melissa, 48, for more than two decades. They are parents to Mikaela, 5, Elliot, 16, and Gabrielle (Gabby), 20.

Describing what fuelled his passion for his craft, he says, “I got to make people laugh and make an impact, whether they cried or just got really angry.”

Still, this isn’t good enough a reason to make him go back on his word, especially since being around family is what makes him feel most fulfilled.

So, has he put his new-found freedom to good use? And what can fans expect from “Gurmit’s World” next? SmartParents gets the doting dad to spill the beans!

Great seeing you again, Gurmit! How’s life been since leaving Mediacorp?

Well, my Lamborghini is gone, but I’m now able to spend more time with the family. I have so much time, in fact, that sometimes, I find myself alone at home because everyone is busy with school and everything else.

So, have you had to make some lifestyle changes?

Yes, we moved out from a house into a condo, which is now fully paid for. After selling the Lamborghini, we bought a 7-seater MPV and that’s paid for, too. I remember when I told my kids about my decision to leave my job, I said one of the many sacrifices we will have to make is no more flying business class. That’s how we used to fly everywhere we went and my kids loved it. It also gave me great pleasure and satisfaction to see how much they enjoyed it. But when my son, Elliot said, “Dad, if it means having more time with you, it’s a no-brainer” and my daughter, Gabby said, “We would rather have you than business class tickets.”

Having Mikaela was a wakeup call that I wanted to leave show business. I decided this is my third chance at getting this right, since I blew the first two.

What a lovely thing say. How did your wife react when you told her of your big decision?

She said, “Both of us didn’t come from a very well-to-do family. If it means spending more time with you, go for it, I’m not scared to go back there.” That really touched me, because some people get so used to a certain lifestyle that they don’t want to go back to how they lived previously.

So, what made you decide to leave your job?

Having Mikaela was a wakeup call that I wanted to leave show business. I decided this is my third chance at getting this right, since I blew the first two. But to be honest, I was already thinking about it way before that, like in 2010. It took me four years to finally do it, because I was so afraid.

Afraid of what?

I didn’t know how to do anything else. My fear ― and I think a lot of people have this fear ― is that they’re so used to doing something they’re good at for so long, that they think they can’t do anything else. So, I asked myself, “What am I going to do if I get out of this?”. What if Mediacorp doesn’t want me anymore after I get out and our income suffers so badly? I thought about becoming a despatch rider or maybe work behind the counter at McDonald’s. I entertained the idea because I like Filet-O-Fish. My family might starve, but I knew I’d be alright! [laughs] So, it took a lot of back-and-forth before I finally did it.

Have you ever regretted your decision?

After I left, I did a father-and-daughter event with Gabby. After the event, they interviewed us individually and one of the questions they asked her was, “What was it like growing up with a super celebrity dad?” Her answer was, “Growing up with my dad you would think it was all that, but for me my dad was a mythical creature, I never knew when he was coming in or going out.” That’s when I knew I had done the right thing by stepping out of the industry. For the longest time I was consoling myself that I was the breadwinner and sacrifices have to be made, I’m doing the best I can, my kids will be fine. You try to justify the means to the end. But when I hear these kind of things, I think to myself, “Whoa, I should have done better.”

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So, how are you making up for lost time?

It’s father-and-son time on Saturday mornings. Once a week, I do something with Mikaela as well, like take her to the zoo or to the swimming pool. I also bring my wife out for a date once a week. We’ve been able to go on more holidays. I’ve gone on a holiday to Bali with my son. Gabby is now in the UK studying Sociology ― yes, I’ve had to let my first baby go and I’m still not over it! We skype we her a lot and this month she and I are doing a road trip around Europe, including France and Germany. I also help out at home, I send the kids to school, prepare breakfast instead of letting my wife do it all the time. Then I help out with the household chores.

How are you paying the bills these days?

I’m still doing hosting, including dinner and dances. So far, I’ve done only one game show with Mediacorp, Don’t Forget To Remember, and I still make appearances as PCK [Phua Chu Kang]. I recently went to KL to host a variety show as PCK. I also went to the Asean Film festival in Sarawak as PCK. It’s amazing that PCK ended more than 10 years ago, but I’m still making appearances as PCK. But I’m not complaining. It’s very fun to do and it gives me great pleasure to stand up there and say the lines and watch people laugh. It’s a good feeling.

Almost six months ago, I started GIV Global, a company that helps everyday people save in gold. Some years ago I started saving in physical gold, because I believe that it’s an important asset to be part of your portfolio. Also, I had little confidence in the way our monetary system is going. But 1kg of gold is US$40,000, so not everybody can buy it. At GIV, we allow you to buy a minimum 3g of gold at US$60 per g. Do this every month and you’ve got a savings plan. Gold prices is not volatile like your shares and stocks. In fact, it only keeps climbing. Since it’s on an e-commerce platform, it’s for everybody around the world. Besides that, I’ve also just written a book!

Melissa and I are the kind of parents who want our children to have a childhood.

A book? Tell us more!

After I left Mediacorp, publishers kept approaching me to write a book. I initially declined, but when the third proposal came long, I decided to take it as a sign and do it. It’s so hard to write a book! All the reasons I did badly in school is because I read a few pages without pictures and I fall asleep. Even till today, when I read bedtime stories to Mikaela, I start passing out after a few pages into Little Red Riding Hood. My wife and Gabby refused to let me use a ghost writer. They felt that I should just be real. If I want to show the different sides of me, I should just write it down. So, every word is directly from me ― I think it’s about 50,000. I put some pictures as well, so that I don’t fall asleep reading my own book!

What’s it about?

The 296 page book, titled What Was I Thinking, is a book about me. It took me a year to write it ― and every chapter is a different chapter of my life. It was great walking down memory lane as I wrote it. My memory sucks, so I had to verify some stories with my wife and my sisters. So, it was a case of one memory triggering another, then I start remembering things I didn’t before. In fact, in the book I thank the readers for this journey down memory lane, because the memories I thought I had lost came back to the surface again and that was great. Since I wanted this book to be very real, I didn’t just share the funny stories because I’m a comedian, but also heart-warming and heart-wrenching ones as well. The book hit the market a few weeks back and is available at Books Kinokuniya, Popular, Amazon and from Armour Publishing.

What parenting philosophies do you live by?

Melissa and I are the kind of parents who want our children to have a childhood. But we do recognise that if our child is failing at a particular subject, then we will bring in a tutor to help him pass the subject.

Nowadays, tutors are brought in so your child can get 90 per cent. Melissa and I refuse to jump on that bandwagon. Instead we talk to them and ask them why they think they are failing, where did they go wrong, do they want a tutor etc. Stuff like that. We are happy as long as they pass.

But even if we do that, our kids will come back home from school and tell us that it’s hard. Everyone is aiming to do higher and they make fun of them if they only score 70 marks. So, that’s why it’s so important to check in with your kids. I often forget, but Melissa will make it a point to ask everyone about their day. Anything exciting, anything we need to know about. Sometimes, they will open up and share over dinner. Other times, they don’t want to share. So, we help them cope.

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What do you want most for your children?

For them to be happy. I always tell them I don’t need them to be a President’s Scholar or have a high ranking or high income job later. Just be happy with what you’re doing and don’t slack. You only have one life to live, why do you keep doing the one job you hate? For me, it’s do your best and whatever comes after that, we can handle. But if you’re slacking and you expect me to accept your results, then you’re in trouble. That’s when the tone of my voice changes and my kids know.

How do you discipline the kids?

I don’t believe in hitting my kids and I know a lot of parents disagree with that. I would rather punch a wall, which I have, than to ever lay a finger on my kids. Growing up, my mum used the belt, cane and feather duster on us and never used it sparingly. I also grew up in a school where the teachers were allowed to slap you on the face and even use a metal ruler to hit your knuckles. Because I went through all that, I know how painful it is. I turned out okay, I don’t go around punching people. But when I think about how painful it was for me, I ask if I want to inflict such pain on my own kids. Is there another way to do this?

Every choice you make has its pros and cons. At the end of the day if you’re doing it with the right intention, your conscience is free and there’s no guilt, it’s all good.

Is there?

Nine out of 10 times I will get through to my kids using fun and laughter, or to use logical thinking. Sometimes, those tricks don’t work and that’s when I punch the wall. When my kids were little, I remember saying, “I’m so angry with you now”. I will make them sit in a chair and think about what they did and I’ll sit in another chair and give myself a time-out as well, because I’m so angry with myself. After we’d cool down, we will come back and talk about what happened. I do yell and shout at my kids, not because I like to, but always after multiple reminders when I really need them to hear me before they do something they’ll regret.

Having a superstar dad is pretty cool. Do you feel like Mikaela is missing out on that?

Gabby once said that Mikaela won’t know me as a superstar, she will only know me as a dad who hangs around a lot and has no job. I told Gabby, “I wasn’t there for you a lot of the times, so now it’s time to play catch up”. I hope Mikaela enjoys me being around, instead of thinking, “Oh no, he’s here again!”. Every choice you make has its pros and cons. At the end of the day if you’re doing it with the right intention, your conscience is free and there’s no guilt, it’s all good.

Before we say goodbye, complete the following sentences…

I want my tombstone to say… He was a good friend, a good husband and a good father.

The one thing most people don’t know about me is… I have no problem staying at home washing dishes, mopping the floor, changing light bulbs and doing grocery shopping. I am happy with that life. I don’t see it as the boring stuff.

The one assignment that might bring me back to show business is… A comedic kung fu role. I started watching Jackie Chan in primary one and I never stopped. At that time I didn’t understand what he was saying, but he was so funny. He is able to mix kung fu with comedy and I’ve always something I’ve wanted to do.

The nicest thing someone has said to me is… Once when I was at Chijmes, two kids came running to me and said, “Uncle I saw you on TV.” I replied, “I saw you, too” and they laughed and ran away”. Then the mum comes along and said, “It must be such a blessing to know you bring such joy”. My jaw dropped. No one has ever put it that eloquently. It meant that I had a responsibility ― I could screw up your day or make you smile.

Photos: Gurmit Singh

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